For many, Thanksgiving traditions involve family, food, and maybe watching football. For others, it might be an opportunity to give back to their community.

On Thursday, the latter types of local Thanksgiving traditions continued -- one a long-time presence, the other a more recent effort that continues to evolve.

Martha Bell considers everyone who passes through the doors of her namesake community service organization a volunteer, whether they are helping feed the hungry or looking forward to a meal.

Thursday's Thanksgiving meal was the 30th anniversary of Martha's Vineyard. The milestone was made possible by volunteers, she said.

"We're all volunteers, doing what God has called us to do," she said. "There are a lot of people with a giving and caring heart to help us."

At the Robert Cherry Civic Center, a free Thanksgiving meal prepared by Ed White, owner of Big Ed's on Joe Clifton Drive, was offered for the third year in a row. Kenneth Patterson, White's older brother, was among the volunteers Thursday.

"He opened up his business and he wants to give back to the community," Patterson said of his brother. "It's open to everyone. He put the marquee out (three years ago), saying community welcome, and people just walked in (to help). They want to be a part of this. These folks come back each year to volunteer."

Between the two events, hundreds of local residents spent Thanksgiving among people and had plenty of food.

While the Thanksgiving meal has long been associated with Martha's Vineyard, it's only part of the services the agency provides for local residents in need. Home deliveries are made twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, year-round from the organization's location at 1100 N. 12th St.

"We deliver more than just a meal. We take them personal care items -- canned goods, crackers, cookies, things for their refrigerator or freezer, whatever they want," Bell said. "Our main goal is to make sure that if they can't get to the grocery, we can give them what they need."

At age 79, Bell doesn't seem to be slowing down.

"I get as excited as a kid at Christmas," she said. "That's the way it is with these Thanksgiving special meals. I'll get up at 20 minutes to 4 (a.m.) and come here. There's nobody up in the neighborhood. Everything's black outside and I'll come through the front door, turn on the lights and I see all the flowers that have been sent (marking the 30th anniversary) ... and it's like getting Christmas presents."

Bell's faith is an integral part of her service.

"It was God that gave me the vision of how to do it," she said.

"He was expressing to me that there are people behind closed doors in their home that are hungry and doing without. So, that's what I do."

Support from the community is critical to the continued operation of Martha's Vineyard, and not just at Thanksgiving, Bell said.

"People fail to realize that a lot of money goes through here just to keep the utilities and everything going. When you stop and think on 30 years, I have depended on God and all these friends. And, all of the needs have been met."

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